Becoming a Bicycling Bad Ass: An Origin Story

One of my main goals for 2018 is to ride my bike to work.  There really is no good reason for me to drive to work every day.  I have a good working bicycle (although cheap), and I can realistically get to work in about 45 minutes.  It normally takes 15 minutes by car, so it adds 30 minutes each way.  I am paying $10 dollars a month for a gym membership.  Why not just ride my bike to work and get my exercise in while also saving a ton of money and reducing my carbon footprint?  I would really like to be able to only have one car for our household, although I’m not sure it is entirely feasible with just the Leaf.  I might as well start riding my bike to work on days it makes sense, and I might as well start right now.  Here is how the week went.

Day 0 - The Night Before

I despise trying to sleep the night before a life change.  I remember the week leading up to launching the Podcast I tossed and turned almost every night, worrying about endless catastrophes.  What if no one listens?  What if we are horrible on the microphone?  What do we have to bring to the conversation that hasn’t already been said?  Of course I knew I had to dismiss those fears and just do it.

And so it was with another life change, biking to work.  I laid awake most of the night before (or so it felt) worrying about what horrors were to befall me in the morning.  Surely I would be attacked by an opiate addict lying in wait along the bike trail!  What about the air pollution I will be breathing in while riding?  I should Google how many bike riders die each year…..UGHHH STOP BRAIN! 

Day 1 - Morning

Thank God it’s a Tuesday.  I didn’t have work on Monday due to the MLK holidayso only four days this week to bike to work.  I crawl out of bed after the restless night and check my phone for the weather.  25 degrees!  What the hell am I thinking? After all, I have a fully electric car I could be driving to work!  However, this week Mrs. CTF will be driving the Nissan Leaf to work as the gas-powered car sits idle.  Pretty cool we will be a zero-emissions family this week!  

I make a quick oatmeal breakfast and coffee (I’m going to need some slow burning carbs today) and grab the sack lunch Mrs. CTF so lovingly packed for me and throw it into a backpack.  I throw on a hoodie and then a winter coat on top of it, a new pair of gloves, and my normal work pants.  My work button-up shirt gets put into the backpack and I run out the door.  Damn it is cold.  The winter wind slaps my cheeks as I walk to the bike.  It is pitch black out still.  Why didn’t I think I might need a headlamp or some lights on the damn bike?  I am for sure getting hit by a car this morning.  My helmet sits awkwardly on my head, gripping closely to my chin as I worry about what my hair will look like once I arrive at the office.

I unlock the bike and pull out my phone to check Google maps for the route.  It is a 7.5 mile trip one way from the house to my work.  About ¼ of the trip will be along busy roads, and the rest is on a peaceful bike trail.  Google maps says it will take 42 minutes.  I check the time, it is 7:15.  I better get going if I’m going to be to work by 8:00.

Hopping on the bike and pedaling towards the street, I am having some serious second thoughts about this particular lifestyle choice.   There aren’t as many cars on the street as I was guessing there would be as I wiz past the dark windows of a Little Caesars.  I can’t believe how cold my hands and face are after about ten minutes in the saddle.  Another bicyclist zooms past me, looking like Lance Armstrong compared to my sloth-like pace.  Of course he has lights and is fully decked out in competitive biker gearI am not in my element.  Seriously, this guy must be going about double the speed I am, I think as I see his rear light disappear in the distance.

After about 15 minutes of riding I arrive at the entrance to the bike trail.  Thank God!  All of these cars spewing pollution in my face has come to an end!  As I begin down the bike trail, I come to the realization I am not nearly as cold as I was when I began the journey.  I pass an older gentleman jogging with a little dog-he says “good morning.” I respond the same.  This is an interaction which would have never occurred inside the warm cabin of a motor vehicle.  I marvel at the view of the faraway mountains ahead of me and the sounds of birds singing as I glide along the path.  My legs are burning at this point, and my backside is starting to feel worse for the wear.  At this point in the journey, I am starting to see the appeal of biking to work. Maybe this is something I can do regularly after all!

The last leg of the ride is by far the most brutal.  A steep hill needs to be climbed before I can reach my final destination.  I quickly click over to the lowest gear and begin pedaling fiercely.  I only get halfway up the hill before I have to stop to catch my breath.  I take the hill in pieces, pedaling like mad to go about twenty feet and then getting off the bike for a quick breather.  This goes on for about five minutes before I am on the other side of the hill, now gliding down towards my office.

I dismount the bike right outside my work and check the time.  8:10!  All told the ride took 55 minutes (which is 13 minutes longer than Google maps had estimated).  I notice I have worked up quite a sweat—good thing I brought my work shirt in the backpack to change into.  As I make my way up to my office, I can’t help but feel a burning sense of pride and accomplishment.  I was able to ride seven miles all using my own body and burning calories with no pollution expelled!  I might be able to get used to this.  My mind turns now to the return trip home after work.  Will I be as zealous after the second leg?  It may take some time for my body to acclimate to this new commute.

Day 1 - Evening

I am freaking starving!  It’s almost time to leave work so I run to the fridge and grab my snack of greek yoghurt and blueberries.  I quickly inhale the food and get everything loaded up into the backpack.  I borrow a headlamp from the swag box in hopes of making myself more visible on the way home.  I meet some coworkers in the elevator on my way out.  They are shocked that I would even think about riding my bike to work in the winter.  In fact, throughout the work day, I had multiple conversations with coworkers regarding how insane I am for braving the elements.  This is not normal behavior.

As I begin my journey back home, my thoughts turn to the ridiculousness of our modern culture that relies heavily on pollution spewing vehicles to get us to and fro.  Cars make us sicker, poorer and miserable, while bikes have the opposite effect. The bike trail is deserted, while I can see the main roads are choked with vehicles sitting in traffic; their red brake lights burning bright in the winter dusk.  I can’t help but wonder how much better our communities would be if even ten percent of commuters did so by bicycle.  Surely mental health issues would improve, people would be fitter, richer and kicking so much ass!  Why have I been a lemming for so long and participated in this madness?  

My ride home is serene and quiet compared to the crowded roadways.  I am able to think clearly as my legs propel the bike forwards down the path.  The ride is much easier so far, as the path is mostly downhill now.  As I get closer to home, I begin to get very tired.  My legs are exhausted and my butt is sore.  I’m not sure I am eating enough calories to sustain this level of exertion.  I may have to have a more substantial snack before embarking in the future.  

I arrive safely at home right around 6 PM.  I am famished and annihilate the dinner Mrs. CTF had ready.  I crash into bed by 7 PM.  My last thoughts before sleep comes are fixed upon how crazy it would be for me to drive a car to work the next morning.

Day 2

The thought crossed my mind to just sleep in a little longer and take the car to work.  I fought off the urge and got on the bike by 7 AM.  I am exhausted, and the bike ride to work seems worse this morning than yesterday.  It again takes me about an hour to get to work.  I think it’s going to be awhile until I reach the Google map estimate.

News of my biking to work has reached a fellow coworker that also bikes.  He comes for a chat and checks out my bike.  He offers a few suggestions and tweaks: adjusts the rear the brake, moves the seat up a bit, etc.  Being quite the amateur, I am glad for the help.  The bike ride home is uneventful and doesn’t seem as bad as the morning.  I’m not sure if it’s from my stamina picking up or the help of my coworker.

No traffic on the bike trail. No snow yet either.

Day 3

Made it to and from work with no major events.  It seems slightly easier to pedal.  Mrs. CTF comments that I made it home at 5:55 instead of 6:05.  She also comments that a big snowstorm is headed in tomorrow and suggests not riding my bike.  I can’t stomach the thought of lazily hopping in the inefficient car.  I check the weather and see the real snow isn’t supposed to show up until late at night.  I resolve to take my chances riding tomorrow.

Day 4

The forthcoming storm has made the morning unseasonably warm.  It’s a balmy 50 degrees!  There’s a 50/50 chance of rain for my evening commute.  I hop on the bike and enjoy a pleasant ride to work.  I come across an abandoned bike and then notice a tent pitched on the side of the bike trail.  I wonder how they’ve been handling the freezing nights.  The rain sets in during the afternoon.  A weather update flashes across my phone screen, advising that the snow is now forecasted to begin at 6 PM.  Drivers around here are idiots, especially when it snows.  I leave work a little early to be on the safe side.  

Riding a bike in the rain isn’t nearly as unpleasant as is sounds.  The faster I ride the more rain patters against my face-I find it quite refreshing!  The trail is empty.  All goes well until about the last 10 minutes of the ride when the snow hits.  By the time I reach home, my beard is full of icicles.  I change immediately and enjoy what feels like a sauna in my 63 degree house.  I sit back and think “I did it!  I biked every day this week, and we used zero gas!”  The pride burning inside of me helps to warm me up.

Final Thoughts

Each day became ever so slightly easier to pedal faster.  If I keep this up, I imagine I will eventually be able to make the journey within 30 minutes.  Upon arriving to work each day coworkers were always amazed I would ride my bike to work in such cold and wintry conditions.  I felt so out of the norm and almost ashamed at the radical departure from the behavior of the rest of the workforce.  In reality, I may be the most rational of the bunch.  Why would I drive an expensive car to work just so it can sit idle in the parking lot for eight hours, making me poorer by the hour?

Now that my first week of commuting by bike has concluded, I realize I am head-over-heels in love with it!  I now know I need to cancel my gym membership and continue this new behavior as many days as I possibly can.  The benefits are just too compelling for any other decision to be made.  Going forward, I will post an article each month to review how I did biking to work and my overall stats.  Here are the stats for the four days I biked to work this week:

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Great write-up! My bike commute is about the same distance, so it was interesting to see your experience. I’ve certainly never done it during the winter and never more than one day at a time, only a few times ever. Do you have a shower at work? I change my clothes, but have found I’m still a bit sweaty after the ride.

    The evening trip is definitely my favorite part because you can take your time a bit and just enjoy it. How was your experience in finding the right clothing for the trip? I’ve found that I’m often either too warm or too cold, or a weird combination of both where my ankles and wrists are freezing but my chest is sweating. Such a struggle…

    Another thing I’ve considered is adding on an e-bike kit like I’ve seen both Carl from 1500 days and Physician on FIRE do. Would make the 8 miles a whole lot less daunting and could be a fun project, but my frugal brain is not wild about the price tag.

    1. Thanks! I don’t have to shower at work because we live in a dry climate and it’s so damn cold right now. I find that I’m okay with just a change of clothes. In the summer though, I think I will definitely need a shower once I get there. My work has a gym facility with shower, so no problems there. I’m fairly warm blooded, but right now, it’s so cold that I wear a hoodie and a coat to keep warm. I’m freezing at the beginning of the ride, but warm up after 10 or 15 minutes…or maybe I just go numb. Either way, I find that I’m comfortable enough once I get going. Both my commutes to and from work have uphill and downhill components, so I get my heart rate up both directions.

      I don’t have a desire for an e-bike, so I haven’t really looked into them. The biggest bonus for riding my bike is the exercise. I like the idea of killing two birds with one stone by biking my commute! I recommend just jumping in and doing it. The feeling of accomplishment is great!

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